It is often said that people become more religious as they age. I was often told that it did not matter if we lost them in the teens or early 20s. They would be back to marry. After marriage, they would be back to bring their children to baptism and raise them in the faith through confirmation. And then when they became empty nesters and were looking for something to fill their days, they would be back. It turns out that this conventional wisdom, perhaps applicable in another age, is not pertinent to the moment.
Among Christians, non-Roman Catholics, it shows a slight increase among some generations and a bit more among others but not a wholesale reversal of past habits. One wonders how these statistics might break down among the mainline Protestants, the Evangelicals, and people like the Missouri Synod Lutherans who do not fit those categories all that well. The older generation did show some increase, perhaps most dramatically among the Silent Generation. Boomers, less so. Gen-X about the same. Millenials, even less.
The old thinking that marriage, responsibility, children, and the changing seasons of life were windows of opportunity to reclaim the lost is not entirely discredited for out time but it certainly shows that our people have found it easy to close those windows and keep on with what had been their practice. In other words, the Church cannot just sit and wait for people to return. We need to engage them where they are. This does not mean making church less like church to win them over. Deception is always a lie and taking on a persona at odds with our creed and confession is doomed to fail. This does not mean diluting the faith until there is nothing left to believe. People will not be drawn to one dimensional caricatures of the faith that are not deeply rooted and grounded in Scripture and history. This does not mean the old way of standing before front doors ready to ask where they would be if they died tonight. Fear of hell is not the motivator it once was. It does mean having confidence that the Word of the Lord will not return to Him empty handed and speaking this Word boldly and compassionately to a world waiting for real hope.
We have a powerful Word, a living voice with which to address all manner and conditions of people and their lives. Why have we so little confidence in that Word? We presume that mirroring good business practices is more powerful than the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace. We act as if gimmicks will substitute for real, authentic, faithful Biblical preaching and teaching. We are looking for quick fixes in a world which marches to the click of the clock but lives to the fullness of God's ripe and fruitful fullness. We judge with our eyes instead of by faith, ready to surrender our creed and confession in order to pack the pews and presume we are doing the right things by judging the results.
At home and in the neighborhoods where we live, we speak and live out the Gospel. That is our witness. There is no supplement needed to the voice of God spoken with lips or shown in life. We come together in the Lord's House to hear His Word and receive His food and this proclaims the Lord's death until He comes as well. We love not because it gets us anything or because it is easy but because He first loved us. We are not timid but we are humble and draw attention not to ourselves and always to Jesus. We stand as light posts in the darkness pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world -- knowing that no clear conscience is created by excusing, dismissing, or normalizing sin. And where we do this, faithful to the Lord in confession and vocation, God will bring the fruit He desires. The elect will be awakened unto faith and those who refuse the cover of the blood of Christ will know what they are rejecting. It never was "if you build it, they will come" but neither was it ever supposed to be "this is your church and your mission, make it work." The sooner we realize this the more energy and time we will have for the real work of the Kingdom.